Erica Williams

Erica Williams (WOCON – Women’s Consortium of Nigeria): Erica worked at the Leadership Alliance Summer Research Early Identification Program at Howard University, in Washington, where she organized material for the African Burial Ground Project. Between 1999 and 2001 Erica worked and studied in Venezuela, Brazil and South Africa. In South Africa, she conducted historical and ethnographic research at the University of Western Cape. Erica studied for her BA at New York University, where she received several travel and research scholarships and volunteered for several different organizations: Students Active for Ending Rape (SAFER), WomenCare, Face to Face International, The Center for African Spiritual Culture, InI Performance Club, NYU, Golden Rose Awards Banquet Committee, NYU. She also served as Editorial Assistant, Academic Achievement Program Newsletter, NYU. At the time of her fellowship, Erica was studying for a Master's degree in African Studies at Yale University and preparing to start a Ph.D. in Cultural and Social Anthropology at Stanford University. Erica asked many probing questions of AP’s new fellowship program, in person and through her final evaluation: “At the orientation, I noticed the beginning of a possible conflict of interest when I learned that interns were expected to engage in capacity-building at their organizations. But I questioned my ability as a 23 year-old student to tell a 50 year-old experienced, renowned human rights lawyer and activist how to run her organization. Perhaps this is the cultural anthropologist in me, but AP, myself, and future interns must recognize their position as outsiders to Nigeria and to WOCON. Being in that tenuous position creates a dynamic where it is difficult to tell people what they should do, because as outsiders we’re not even accustomed to living in their environment." “For instance, with my office experience in the U.S., I’m used to organizing files in labeled manila folders and hanging file folders in file cabinets. Thus, I found WOCON’s filing system of long folders in a multi-shelved closet impossible to understand. But it works for them. My work experience in the U.S. has also trained me to write out my daily activities, allot a specified amount of time to tasks, and rely heavily on the computer. This is an unattainable goal in Lagos because of the constant unexpected power outages and the fact that sending two emails can take you upwards of two hours. Future interns should be fully aware of the challenges they will face in Nigeria, and even then they may still have trouble adapting to the environment.” Erica also found Lagos to be hard work: “The daily struggles of life in Lagos were another challenge. Constant power outages, traffic jams, torrential rains and floods, painfully slow internet service, and the week-long fuel strike all conspired to make my work more difficult.”

WOCON Sensitizes Rural Community to Prevent Child Trafficking

01 Aug

On 30 July 2003, WOCON, with the support of ECPAT International, conducted a sensitization program on the prevention of child labor and trafficking of children from rural communities in the village of Ajegunle in Ogun State. Ajegunle, a village close to the Idi-Iroko border between Nigeria and the Republic of Benin, is notorious for the recruitment of children trafficked to urban areas in Nigeria, across the border to the Republic of Benin en route to other West African or European countries, and the first stop for children trafficked from Benin Republic, Togo, or Ghana into Nigeria.

The sensitization program consisted of a market outreach and a consultative forum. In the market outreach, Mrs. Olateru-Olagbegi warned the community of the dangers of child trafficking and child labor. Armed with a loudspeaker and backed up by local drummers, she gave her message in both Yoruba and Pidgin English. Members of WOCON staff (Simbo, Toyin, Bunmi, Kemi, Mr. Ofo, and myself) distributed flyers, bags, and biros (writing pens) to everyone present.

After the market outreach, we had an opening ceremony where a few community and religious leaders spoke about their personal encounters with child trafficking. Approximately forty people attended the consultative forum – the room was overcrowded, and there were even people at the windows. The workshop was conducted in Yoruba, which presented a huge challenge to me. But thanks to my Yoruba professor at Yale, Mr. Ore Yusuf, I was able to pick up enough to make sense of things.

Mrs. Olateru-Olagbegi began the forum with a question for the participants: What is a child? The answers ranged from “anyone under 10 years old” to “anyone between 1 and 6 years old.” The internationally accepted definition of a child is anyone under the age of 18.

When we first arrived at the compound in Ajegunle, we wondered why there were so many school age children milling about. We soon discovered that it was because there is no public primary school in Ajegunle, and the nearest one is 5km away. Even members of WOCON were shocked at this revelation, considering the fact that Yorubaland is historically recognized as the region of Nigeria with the best education system.

This makes child labor an extremely difficult topic to discuss in a rural community such as Ajegunle because what else is there for children to do if they’re not in school but work? We saw a little boy who looked like he could be no more than 7 years old sanding wood for a carpenter for hours on end right outside our forum.

As a result of the poor education system, many people in Ajegunle are illiterate. When we passed out evaluation forms for people to fill out at the end of the forum, we had to help many people who couldn’t read and write. A 25-year-old hairdresser asked me to help fill out her evaluation form.

At the end of the day, we drove to the Idi-Iroko border with Benin Republic and distributed posters and flyers to the Immigration officials.

Posted By Erica Williams

Posted Aug 1st, 2003

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